Deciding on the right shopping cart for your business

Previously, we reviewed WooCommerce, the WordPress shopping cart plugin.  Today we’ll talk about Magento – the fully open source shopping cart system.  Magento is based on a LAMP (Linux Apache MySQL PHP) server environment, so it follows your usual open source installation process.

We’ve used Magento for a couple of stores we’ve set up.  Now Magento is primarily a shopping cart software and not so much of a CMS (Content Management System) although it does have the capability, it’s just not as robust as say a Joomla, Drupal, or WordPress platform.  Magento’s real strength is in product cataloging and selling.  This – it excels.  There are extensions for just CMS capabilities – some better than others.

Let’s go through some Pros and Cons of Magento

Pros

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  • There are many pre-designed templates to choose from to get started quickly.  This is important for beginners because customizing Magento can be a real bear and I’ve known some stellar designers give up and go with something else because of it.  But if you know how to template in Magento – it’s powerful stuff and easy to upgrade.
  • Security – everything is locked down pretty tight right out of the box.  The Magento team really made this their focus when designing this system.
  • Very good import/exporting tools.  Where Woocommerce falls short on the import exporting front, Magento picks up the slack.  The ability to interface with POS/ERP systems is paramount for any serious e-commerce store.  Magento does this well.
  • Good reporting. You want to know where your business stands from month to month and year to year.  Magento has some really good tools for this.
  • Processing orders- On the client side of things, it’s pretty easy to select all the orders for the day and click print.  Then go fill the orders. So for a warehouse clerk (or you), it’s a breeze.
  • User Roles/Granular access.  Magento has the ability to show only what you want – to certain user roles.  So your warehouse person who just fills the orders might only see the Orders tab.  Everything else is hidden.
  • Extensions.  The Magento community has a ton of extensions in the Magento Connect portion of their site.  Many of them are paid and you have to be careful on what version of Magento you have installed and what the extensions says it is compatible with.
  • Mobile themes – yes – out of the box.  You will be ready for mobile with Magento although it’s always easier said than done 🙂
  • MagentoGo is a fairly new part of the Magento business model.  Basically, it’s a hosted/paid service you can buy and it comes with a pre-designed template library you can choose from, some CMS features, the hosted service taken care of, and support.  It’s made for people who just want to their shop up and going.  It’s good for people starting out, but you will be limited to some customization and other flexibility you get with hiring a developer. Here you can see what MagentoGo does:

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Cons

Unfortunately, there are some cons to this system.

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  • Installation can be a beast if your server does not meet certain requirements.  I remember my first time trying to install Magento, it took me hours and hours of troubleshooting only to find out my server didn’t meet certain criteria.  I actually had to switch server companies.
  • Extensions – there are many extensions out there.  Some good – some bad.  The problem is many of them have been known give server errors and you’ll be scrambling to clear out the internal cache, uninstall the extension, or worse – reinstall your backup.  Pay close attention to compatibility warnings and make sure you backup your site before installing extensions.
  • CMS Features.  For basic content editing, it’s OK.  It won’t give you rich content editing features like you will get from WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal, but it does the job.  If you are looking to do a lot of content updates, new pages,menus,  postings, and if your site is constantly in flux – I’d stay away from Magento – it’s primarily a shopping cart with some CMS capability – not the other way around.
  • Templating.  As mentioned before, templating in Magento can be very difficult for new users because of the amount of files you have to deal with.  Everything is staged in “blocks” and so while it offers huge flexibility – it also makes things a bit tougher to get changes done quickly.  You can find a designers guide here.
  • Upgrading.  This can also be difficult.  Magento has come a long way since version 1.3x but upgrading (especially if you have a lot of extensions) can really be a chore.  Bottom line – upgrading is a pain.
  • Complex file structure – You’ll need to know some XML if you are to work in this system.  It relies heavily on it which places dependent files all over the directory structure.  Yes this increases security and is good for rolling out mass changes, but it’s not for novices.

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So all in all, Magento is a good shopping cart system – but is it good enough for your business?  I guess that is the question.  Some small businesses just need a store with products they sell.  But to do some SEO and SEM strategies, sometimes a CMS system can help search engines grab your content and index it.  Magento has some drawbacks but as it matures, I believe they are on track to really take shopping carts to the next level.

If you are in the Quad Cities or beyond and need some shopping cart development, make sure you check us out at www.lucidway.com where we do everything from e-learning to web design.